Wedding Dress Blues

I like jeans and sweatshirts or shorts and t-shirts. I rarely go anywhere that I need to wear more. There was an upcoming wedding. Not just any wedding. I’m the Mother-of-the-Groom and will be forever more in photo albums and on Facebook. I figured that this may be the last time in my life that I have to wear a dress. I am not a shopper. What to do?

I was telling Farm Club friends the story of the dress I wore to my oldest son’s wedding seven years ago. There was an “aha” moment…I’ll do it again. Here is the story.Wedding-1986_

This is our wedding day in 1986.  We got married at the dairy where we lived and worked and I made Dan’s and Matt’s matching shirts. I don’t remember where I got the dress but it wasn’t a “wedding dress”. It was just a white dress that fit me. DSC_0196

This is Matt’s wedding many years later. I’m wearing the same dress. I dyed it and made a shawl to go with it.

When my daughter got married a few years later the wedding was to be an outdoors wedding in Vermont in the fall. Based on normal weather patterns I chose a wool dress and boots and made a chenille shawl. There was a heat wave and I probably could have used the same dress but who knew?


My aha moment came when I realized that I could use this dress for another wedding. I like the dress and it fits me and I Don’t Have to Shop. Why not?

The wedding colors were navy blue and yellow. The bridesmaids and the Mother-of-the-Bride were all wearing navy blue. I was discussing colors with a friend and she offered to help me dye the dress with indigo. Realize that we’re about 5 weeks from the wedding date at this point. IMG_0697Dottie brought a car-load of supplies. She put indigo in a tea strainer and we watched the water turn color. We also noticed a metallic sheen on the water and weren’t sure what to do about that. We forged ahead…IMG_0701…sampling with cotton fabric that Dottie had brought with her. The metallic stuff showed up on the fabric but it seemed that we could wipe it off easily.IMG_0713So we went ahead with the dress. When dyeing with indigo you don’t want to stir up the dye bath because indigo dyeing relies on a chemical reaction as the fabric comes out of the dye and reacts with oxygen. If you introduce oxygen into the dye bath you lose some of the effectiveness of the indigo.IMG_0714When you bring something out of an indigo bath it is green at first.IMG_0719As it reacts it turns blue. Usually you rely on several dips to darken the color, but this one came out fairly dark the first time. However, we saw unevenly dyed areas where I had been too careful about lowering the dress into the bath and the dye didn’t get into the folds. There was also that metallic stuff in spots. I decided to hose the dress off (no pictures at this point) and see what it looked like. Not good. Very splotchy and not in a good way. So I tried again, this time stirring the dress in the pot with my hands.  It was more important to get an even dye job than to save the dye bath for later.IMG_0725Here is the final product. But we weren’t done. There was another step and that was a surprise to me. First though the dress had to be completely dry, so that step was going to have to wait until later.IMG_0726No, one of us didn’t grow an extra hand. Dottie came with a friend who  took some of these photos while we were working.

The next step involved a process that indigo expert, John Marshall, describes in a booklet about using soy milk when dyeing with indigo.IMG_0922

This seemed very involved and I put it off about a week but knew that I had better get moving because it was a lengthy process. Dottie had brought soaked soybeans and I had put them in the freezer. I thawed them and followed the instructions in the booklet to prepare soy milk. I put the soaked beans in the blender and added water.IMG_0921

After blending I poured the mixture into a cloth lined colander. This process is repeated three times, adding water each time to make more soy milk.


Eventually I had a bucket with enough soy milk to cover the dress.


This is the leftovers from the process (which, by the way, I fed to the chickens).

I soaked the dress and put it on a hanger. The dress was supposed to cure for a minimum of two to three weeks to ensure that any leftover indigo would not “crock” or come off. (Picture washing brand new jeans with white things and the dye running…or me hugging the bride and leaving streaks of blue on her dress.) Time was running out and about a week before the wedding I dunked the dress in a bucket of water with synthrapol (a detergent that is meant to attach to unfixed dye particles). Low and behold, there was very little discoloration of the water.  Dottie, you nailed it!


The big day arrived and the dress was just fine. You can’t tell from this photo but I belted it with a silk scarf that one of my Farm Club friends dyed with our eucalyptus leaves. I chose shoes that matched the sash and when I looked back at the other wedding photos I realized that I was wearing the same shoes that I wore at Matt’s wedding!


15 thoughts on “Wedding Dress Blues

  1. You’re such a great blogger! I’ve enjoyed the entire wedding. The dress looks wonderful. Much happiness to the bride and groom.

  2. The story of the dress is just wonderful. It looks great in all its colors but the indigo dyed version is the best! Thank you so much for taking us through all of this, dress and wedding, with you.

  3. I love seeing these photos. I’ve had trouble getting mine — which aren’t near as good as the one’s you and Diana took. Isn’t this a wonderful process? Great photos. Great job!!!

  4. hi, cuz–you are such a great writer! i got completely involved with the details….and blue is my favorite color…but indigo is my passion. whenever mom gave the kids–when they were very little–kimonos and other things for them to wear i put salt in the water to wash them, so that the blue would not subsequently bleed….madras shirts,ditto….the salt also did the trick. i’ll leave it up to you to tell me why…i mean, chemical-wise……….i’ve been missing trips to see you, and the lambs, of course. but especially you. maybe i can entice Gaby to bring me out there. i’m hobbling what with a knee replacement. aging–they can have it! it’s enough to give one the blue! hahaha!
    give my regards to the sheep please……see you soon, i hope. cuz katherine

  5. The fact that you still fit in your wedding dress 30 years later – awesome. The fact that you were then able to use said dress for both sons wedding – amazing. I love this! And you look lovely!

  6. The dress turned out gorgeous! Great dye job. Amazing that you’ve fit the dress for so long! Good style is ageless.

  7. I will start calling you Frugal Earth Mom of the groom. I love the story of this dress. What a wonderful counter to the typical buy it, wear it, throw it away that most clothes go through.

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